The Swamp Stalker is a thin bipedal beast about 1 ½ peds tall, which is often mistaken for a tree. Though quite rare, it can be found in several of the larger marshes of Sarvonia, from the Silvermarshes in the north to the Oka’Seri Swamp in the South.
Picture description. Often taken for a tree, yet pretty much alive: the Swamp Stalker Image drawn by Seeker.
Stalkers, as they are usually called, at first resemble dead trees. Their hide
is a dull gray brown colour, and heavily corrugated. Their bodies are irregular,
with odd lumps and protrusions. Many stalkers have mossy growths or fungi
protruding from their hides. Their long, spindly forearms end in a simple pincer
grip of two “fingers”, each of which is tipped by a thin, almost circular pad
resembling a dead leaf. Their legs are short (about a
fore long) and end in large
splayed feet, which split into three toes. They greatly resemble partially
exposed roots. The Stalker’s camouflage makes it very
difficult to spot. Stalkers seem to be an odd cross between an insect and a
reptile, but as they have only four limbs, they are considered by most
researchers to be reptiles.
Stalkers have small round heads with large faceted eyes like those of a dergimar fly. They have no visible mouth orifice. The head is joined to the body by a short, thin neck. At the base of the neck, the forearms protrude outwards, with almost no discernable shoulders. Stalkers can go on all fours, but are generally seen standing on their back legs. They do not stand upright but are usually bent slightly forwards. Their bodies are long and narrow, and they terminate just past the hind legs in a short protrusion. In the female, this end contains the ovipositor and cloaca; in the male, the cloaca and fertilization tube. Along the belly of both genders is a small series of slits, which are barely discernable in the rough hide, but they contain a deadly substance (see Special Abilities).
The Swamp Stalkers’ most dangerous attribute is a thick liquid they secrete from
their bellies. This is a digestive substance which, when applied to a dead body,
causes extremely rapid decomposition. Stalkers rub their food across their
abdomens to pre-digest it, then absorb the nutrients through the slits in the
belly. If a live animal or person comes in contact with this fluid, the flesh
breaks out into horrible decaying blisters, which leave permanent scars,
assuming the individual survives. Stalkers are very fast with their hands, but
cannot travel swiftly.
Territory. These beasts are found throughout Sarvonian marshes south of the Tandalas. However, they are quite rare and only inhabit the most desolate, remote areas of any marshes. Few, if any, are found near settlements. This is due to the fact that any stalker venturing near a settlement of any sentient race will promptly be hunted down and killed. The most southerly region they have been discovered in is the Oka’Seri marshes. At the time of writing, it is not known if they exist on other continents.
Habitat/Behaviour. Stalkers are solitary individuals, never coming together except briefly during the mating season (see Mating). The ones that are in the more northerly marshes hibernate during the colder months in caves or burrows, usually after disposing of the previous occupant, for they do not dig their own. They emerge in early spring, before the new growth has fully begun on the trees. They are the most dangerous then, for they are ravenously hungry and will eat anything or anyone they can get their fluids on. Even the swamp kaimuni avoid them in spring.
Diet. Stalkers are exclusively carnivorous. They tend to lurk near water holes, either to wait for prey or to hunt for fish. Most often a Stalker will lie on the ground, looking like a dead log, and trailing one “hand” in the water with a worm or bug between the fingers. (They may stand also upright by the water hole, resembling an old dead tree, and wait for a small animal to come by.) When a fish takes the bait, the Stalker seizes it, crushes the head with its pincers and rubs the fish over its belly to stimulate the digestive fluids. Then it drapes the decomposing fish across its belly slits to absorb it. They will do this with any food they can catch, including little mullogs or hobbit children. Hobbit mothers sometime use them as a threat to dissuade their children from adventuring: “If you go into the swamp, the Stalkers will get you!” However, the actual chances of this happening are very rare, since the Stalkers avoid settlements so assiduously.
Mating. Mating occurs in late spring. Little is known about the Stalkers’ mating rituals, but from dissections of the dead bodies, researchers have noted that the female’s body has an ovipositor through which she lays the eggs. The male’s body contains a small tube which is held within the body until mating, when it extends outwards to deposit the sperm within the ovipositor opening. The two then go their separate ways and the female lays her eggs in her old winter burrow and leaves them there. She does not bother to guard them or even stay near by. There are usually about 15-20 eggs. The eggs are about the size of a human man’s closed fist, round and a vivid xazure blue with pale yellow streaks and splotches. The outer shell of the egg is initially soft and rubbery. As the embryo within grows, the shell becomes firmer as it stretches over the animal’s body. The eggs hatch within four weeks, by which time they have doubled in size. Newly hatched baby stalkers, known as twiglets, will absorb the remaining egg shells and other refuse, and then scatter, going their solitary ways. Most swamp predators do not prey on them, except for cranes and other Stalkers.
Usages. Gnome alchemists, intrigued by the Stalkers' powerful digestive fluids, have experimented with them and have developed a method which allows them to create a very effective poison, particularly for rodents or undesirable beetles in the home. They acquire the liquid by hunting through the swamp for ready-to-hatch Stalker eggs and bringing them home. When the twiglets hatch, they kill them and remove the glands which produce the fluids. This is a difficult and dangerous process, for if the twiglets hatch before they have been safely confined, the alchemist had best flee quickly. Marrow Danniflower, a great-nephew of Gallea's, has set up a business just south of the marshes, where he tames cranes to sell to researchers and alchemists who wish to explore the swamp.
Myth/Lore. Mullogs believe that the Stalker is a creation of the Chaos God, (representing hate and treachery) sent to create disorder and destruction, and its analog is the crane, sent by the Order Goddess to nullify the stalker, as twiglets are a favoured food of the crane and the adult crane can kill a stalker by stabbing it through with its long beak. Some people do not believe that the Stalkers even exist, saying they are nothing but stories to frighten children. Hobbit and mullogs are openly contemptuous of these “foolish big folk”, however.
Researchers. The most accurate researchers on this beast are actually some of the more scholarly hobbits. Gallea Danniflower, an adventurous halfling woman who narrowly escaped a Stalker attack as a child, decided to learn more about them as an adult. Her studies, conducted in the late 1570's, are the basis for most of the information available on this beast, though over the years others have added occasional details.
Wemo Tookson, a distant cousin to and contempory of Danniflower, was responsible for the capture and dissection of an adult Stalker, thus providing some of the information. Tookson is much renowned for his bravery among hobbit males, but notorious for his folly among their womenfolk.
Information provided by Alysse the Likely